Disaster Relief Efforts

Several folks have asked the question: “What can we do to help Hurricane Relief efforts”.    Rather than responding individually, I’ll share my thoughts with the group.    I don’t claim to be the expert on the matter by any means, but I can speak from experience where I have been able to assist in disaster relief efforts in the past.

Most public service and volunteer agencies (including ARRL and FEMA) strongly discourage people from simply “packing up and heading out”.   Among many other reasons, independent volunteers (regardless of skill or qualification) without assignment or organization tend to “clog the works” so to speak.    This was a huge problem when I assisted in Haiti after the earthquake a number of years ago.    Volunteers flew in direct and “went to work” both inhibiting and in many cases  actually preventing more experienced relief workers from doing their assigned job.   There were a number of court cases after the fact where well meaning independent volunteers were prosecuted for hindering efforts.    I know of one well meaning religious group that was arrested on site and jailed.   Any relief effort is going to be chaos.  The worst thing we could do is to add to that chaos.

In any relief effort there will be literally hundreds if not thousands of various official and NGO* agencies trying to coordinate efforts.  Coordinating efforts between those agencies while not duplicating, and/or conflicting can be at times extremely stressful and challenging.

How do we help then?

Here are a few suggestions on how to become involved.   There are probably a number of other ways, but for brevity, I’ll mention just a few that I’m most familiar with.

  1. Find an Agency that already has been assigned to help, make contact with them and let them know your availability, skill set, and qualifications.   Work within the bounds of that organization, and don’t “lone wolf”.  Some suggestions would be:
    1. American Red Cross – Involved with almost every relief effort nationally and internationally.  They need all kinds of volunteers: medical, technical, communications, social workers, responders, etc.
    2. Contact local ARES and HAM clubs in and around the disaster area (if possible) and offer to help.  If they don’t respond, don’t be offended.  They’re probably extremely busy and have a lot to do.  If you’re contacting them via radio, please don’t interrupt or interfere with in any way, ongoing nets or conversations.   If you’re monitoring a net, you should only check-in if they ask for help or additional check-in’s.   Breaking in on a net is considered bad form and you may get chastised.
    3. JustServe – (Website and mobile app) Numerous service opportunities both local and regional can be found here.  Register you qualifications and skills, and watch for opportunities.
    4. ARRL – Watch their site and be aware of what groups in the affected area will be doing.  If they post requests for assistance, be ready to respond.
    5. ARES/RACES – Any out of state requests from national ARES or RACES will come down through the ARES section manager (Mel Parks).  He will contact our EC (Jeremy Stallard) directly and they will work together to organize our response.   They are well organized.   It’s easy to think nothing is being done because you don’t hear about it at the local level, but they’re well experienced and the system works.
    6. FEMA / Citizencorps / NVOAD – They have a list of official agencies with websites where volunteers can register :  https://www.fema.gov/volunteer-donate-responsibly.   FEMA Also has recently added a site to recruit personnel for temporary relief assignment:  https://careers.fema.gov/hurricane.
    7. Other organizations: Helping Hands, Doctors without borders, Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), and many religious organizations have volunteer hot lines and web sites.
  2. Set up a station here, well out of the affected areas and listen for requests to help pass traffic, messages etc.   Look up and monitor both VHF and HF frequencies of ARES and ham clubs in and around the affected areas.  Be familiar with linking protocols like IRLP and various digital modes used in emergency communication.  Please don’t transmit on their frequencies unless specifically asked to as any traffic on their bandwidth could interfere with ongoing relief efforts.   If you wan to travel closer to the affected areas, make contact with ARES managers and/or local HAM clubs in the areas you have chosen to travel to.  See if they actually need help.  They probably already have action plans in place.  Be aware that just travelling anywhere near the affected area, you could be inhibiting response teams.
  3. ARRL  NTS  – This is frequently used in disaster assistance.  Many groups rely heavily on NTS to get messages through to family and loved ones.  Get involved with the NTS system already in place.   Get familiar with their methods and procedures and assist and practice when you can.  http://www.arrl.org/nts
  4. Local Public service agencies  – Frequently local groups are asked to go help.   Those groups are usually law enforcement, fire, medical, and search and rescue teams.  When they do go, they frequently ask for volunteer support.  If you are familiar with those agencies and already have good working relationships with them, you are more likely to be selected to assist.
  5. Be trained!  – Be involved in your local and regional communities.  Participate in CERT , Citizen Corps, Red Cross, ARES, RACES and other organizations and training opportunities.  Get trained in CPR-AED, Emergency first aid, and Emergency Communications.   FEMA, ARRL and other organizations mentioned above provide many free or inexpensive courses and certifications to help citizens be better trained and prepared for what ever may come.

*NGO (Non Government Organizations.   ie: RedCross, Churches, Doctors without borders.. etc.)

I know I haven’t covered everything here, but hopefully this will give you some ideas and be the topic of some good discussion.

 -Tyler (N7TTP)